Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Big In Japan: The Japanese Wolves.

Is there any animal more overrated than wolves? We mean this in the best and worst senses: either wolves are the meanest, nastiest, most powerful nemeses around, or they are sweet, gentle, timid creatures that were as unfairly persecuted as Native Americans. There is no middle ground. Oh, and by the way, Balto lied to us as kids on so many levels. (When we make an entry on wolfdogs, we will cover him more thoroughly.)

Now, to be fair, wolves are among the few animals that humans have attempted to eradicate. Teddy Roosevelt unleashed a mange-carrying parasite among American wolves that quickly spread from one wolf to the rest of the pack. (Among other animals with systematic eradication policies are snakes (many people down South will kill a snake on sight - regardless of species), invasive Australian rabbits, and the Tasmanian Tiger (which we realized was awesome too late.)) "Wolfaboos" will often cite eradication of wolves as evidence for us to love them. We have to admit: Infecting a lot of them with sarcoptic mange was pretty mean. Now we know how important wolves are. Get off our backs about it.

In present-day Japan, wolves are darn near divine. This is largely because both of the wolves Japan had are officially extinct (although the shrines to them likely predate at least one extinction). Calling the wolves ookami (a homophone for "great god") is their way of saying  "we're very sorry."

Did we mention Japan loves homophones?

Unlike the Western Big Bad Wolf, the ōkami is generally a benevolent spirit. If dealt with wisely, it can be an honest, pure creature that protects its new friend from other wolves. Other wolves that encounter stupider humans may become the same man-eating monsters as found in Grimm's fairy tales. People protected by the ōkami will generally leave it an offering of beans and rice. Disclaimer: THE AUTHOR DOES NOT ENDORSE TRYING THIS WITH CORPOREAL WOLVES AND IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY LIMBS LOST.

We do, however, admit that both of the Japanese wolf subspecies were hunted down like their American counterparts. The reasoning is also similar to the situation in the U.S.: ranchers had issues with the wolves eating their animals. In the Meiji Period, the government officially used chemical warfare against the Hokkaidō Wolf (C.l.hattai), which was already suffering from habitat loss. It was officially declared extinct in the late 1800's.

The other Japanese wolf, the Honshū Wolf (C.l.hodophilax), was a much smaller variety and is considered the Japanese wolf. Hardly a threat to ranchers at a little over a foot high, environmental threats pushed it closer and closer to human habitation. Farmers still shot the mini-wolves if they got too close. Many of them also acquired rabies in 1732. The chibi-wolf was officially declared extinct in 1905. It lives on in spirit, but not in body. In other words, Wolf's Rain already happened.

Not too sure about the human form thing, though. Or the albino chick.

As with the sightings of the Tasmanian Tiger, there exist sightings of Japanese wolves. This entry is not about saving the wolves, however; as long as we aren't eradicating them, they will be just fine. Relax.

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